Packed with opposition in orange "Homes Not Handfuffs" buttons, yesterday's City Council committee meeting initiated the first public discussion of Denver's proposed, hotly debated urban camping ban. With the proposal come as many accusations as questions, many of them involving concerns it could criminalize the city's homeless population. Key in this discussion is how the ban would be enforced, which organizers have laid out in a plan called CAM: Contact, Assess and Mobilize.
Like the ordinance itself, this plan is still in draft form. Presented by Bennie Milliner, newly appointed executive director of Denver's Road Home, the initial enforcement plan is the result of discussions between his organization, Mayor Michael Hancock's office and councilman Albus Brooks, who's leading the push for the ban.
If approved, the proposal would make it illegal for anyone to set up temporary residence on public or private property without permission. However, its opposition, including the Colorado Coalition For the Homeless, contests the appropriateness of displacing a population with nowhere else to go -- at least through city resources. According to Milliner, the city could not shelter all of its homeless population overnight even if its current resources were doubled.
Milliner stresses attempts to maintain humanity. "I think it's important that we don't miss what our primary function is, and that's to move them toward sustainability," he says. "Resources are going to be needed to bring this to bear."
Split into three sections, with each part based on one part of the CAM acronym, the plan calls for a hotline, so that the public can report potentially homeless people who appear to need assistance. That call would connect to the Denver Street Outreach Collaborative, whose members are available from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. six days a week. (In this instance, and in others, the plan mentions the potential need to expand hours of operation.) Here, the A comes in to effect, with the outreach worker analyzing the person in question through a vulnerability index and checking for sobriety and health needs. (Again, mental health resources might require expansion.) If necessary, outreach would match the person with a city or state resource, including a shelter, a detox center or a motel.
Currently, this leaves some gray area regarding space, which is by no means a guarantee for each person who could be moved off the streets by the ban. As Milliner told yesterday's meeting, "The question then becomes, 'Do we not do anything because we can't do anything?'"
From there, law enforcement steps in. Unlike most similar ordinances, Denver's urban camping proposal requires warnings to violators, which officers would provide both orally and through a written statement. Should both the outreach worker and the officer be unable to find a solution, backup might be called. The eventual goal, laid out in the Mobilize segment of the plan, is to match each person with a more sustainable solution, which must include additional plans to accommodate its potentially increased needs according to the draft's second page.
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For more information, read the enforcement draft in full below:
More from our Politics archive: "Urban camping ban heats up packed city council committee meeting."